5 Homestead Animals for Self-Sufficiency
The Best Farm Animals to Provide for Your Family
Reading Time: 8 minutes
If your aim is self-sufficiency and you’re not a vegan, you will need a supply of milk, eggs and meat for self-sufficiency. From cow farming to chicken keeping, the peace of mind and satisfaction you gain from raising your own animals can’t be matched. When you know the animals which supply food for you and your family are treated with care in a healthy and humane way, a value cannot be put on it.
Even the smallest of homesteads can support a few animals when carefully chosen. While cow farming may not be an alternative for you, keeping a single cow, sheep, goats or chickens may be an option. The amount of time and space available certainly determines which you can or want to keep in order to provide some or even a majority of your food. For the smallest of spaces, quail and rabbits can be kept in backyard cages.
I’ve chosen my top five animals which, I believe, enable us able to enjoy self-sufficient farm living. These are all multi-purpose in products, purpose, and value. What homesteader doesn’t like things that fill all those requirements?
I can’t think of a better animal to start our list with than the good old family cow. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandparents family dairy cows. Silly to some, I know, but the smell of the cow manure in the early morning air as you head to the barn fills me with comfort and ease. The first cow I can remember was Betsy, a big brown Jersey. I learned all I know about cow farming from my grandparents.
One of the biggest benefits of cow farming is the fresh cow’s milk. There are so many products coming from one bucket. Granny would bring in the milk, strain it through cheesecloth into the milk jug and cool it. We would enjoy fresh milk, cream on our biscuits in the morning, butter, buttermilk, cheese and milk gravy. I’m hungry just thinking about it. But what milk is the best for your family’s health and the all-around best for your homestead?
As always I say, don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. I’m sure you say, as I once did, “A cow is a cow? Right?” When you settle the answer to your questions on pasteurization vs. raw milk and what makes better sense for you and your family, you’ll stumble across the A1 Milk vs A2 A2 Milk debate. You’ll find most of American and some European dairies raise cows which produce A1 Milk. This is a relatively new debate in the cow farming arena here in the United States.
I grew up on raw A2 A2 milk and so did my ancestors. If it works, don’t fix it is a motto we like to live by. You’ll be making decisions with your money in the purchase and upkeep of your cow which affects your health in one way or another, so take some time and do a little research before you take the next step.
Cows also have a great symbiotic relationship with trees. When cow farming, trees provide the shade and shelter for the cows and the cows provide the fertilizer for the trees. Some breeds do better at foraging than others and, you guessed it, deciding which breed is the best fit for your homestead is a yet another research topic for you.
Other things to consider when choosing a breed for cow farming is which breeds birth easiest and, if meat production is important to you, which breeds are known and bred for meat in your area. Once you’ve made your choice, you’re on your way to a homestead flowing with milk and honey.
For cow farming here in the panhandle of northern Idaho, I would choose Scotch Highland for their ability to withstand the cold temps, foraging, milk and meat production. In the deep south of west-central Louisiana, we had chosen Pineywoods for their heat tolerance and foraging abilities as well as easy births and meat/milk production.
Goats are one of the most practical and versatile creatures possible to raise. There is also the advantage of their small size, as far as livestock goes and they’re pretty self-reliant. As any experienced goat keeper will tell you, a strong fence is a must for keeping goats! One dairy goat can create two to four quarts of milk every day. Besides milking goats for their nutritious beverage, their milk is used in making goat soap, butter, and cheese. Angora goats and other long-haired breeds are raised for their coats. When sheared, you can sell the coat or make your own handcrafted products. Goat meat is healthy and when prepared properly, has an unmatched flavor.
One of my favorite things about owning goats is how efficient they are at destroying junk trees and bushes. We’ve used them to clean up areas in a matter of weeks, which would have taken us years to do ourselves. Just a note here, it’s important to know, as with all other livestock, what your goats eat will affect the taste of their milk and meat. It does seem to me though, a goat’s milk is more quickly affected than a cow’s by what they eat.
Goats can serve many purposes on the homestead. Grazing your goats with a green (unbroken) horse or mule is an effective way of taming them. When they observe the feeding and affection the goats receive from you every day, they will build trust in you. This is often the catalyst to the horse or mule coming to you for handling. I once knew an old cowboy who used this method with astonishing results. He pretty much ignored the green animal for weeks other than feeding it. Eventually, the horse or mule would come to him.
You know me! You don’t want to get me started on why we need chickens. Besides the eggs and meat, there’s the entertainment. I could watch chickens for hours as they mill around scratching and pecking. The antics of making sure the flock pecking order is maintained are hilarious! There’s something wonderful about waking up to a rooster telling everyone to rise and shine! Chickens are not difficult to care for, no matter what others may tell you.
Chicken feathers are also useful. After cleaned and dried, they may be used to stuff pillows, as well as old-fashioned feather mattresses. They make great dusters too. I’ve seen rooster tail feathers in ladies hats and in flower arrangements! Composting chicken manure is a valuable asset to any garden needing a nitrogen boost.
A great many poultry breeds are suitable for the homestead, both large and small. Geese, ducks, and guineas are also an excellent source of meat, eggs, and feathers. Their meat is richer than chicken meat. Duck eggs are exceptionally good for you. I like to cook with them, but I love my chicken eggs for breakfast.
Guineas possess the additional benefit of being effective pest managers and watchdogs. Even though my chickens eat the same bugs, guineas snap up ticks, hornets, wasps, ants, spiders, all kinds of creepy crawlies, as well as mice in larger numbers. Be warned! If, after experiencing their beneficial bug bagging, you find yourself without guineas for a season, you’ll experience a bug apocalypse! No one and nothing can come on your homestead without your guineas telling you all about it.
My new favorite in homestead poultry is, of course, the heritage breed Chocolate turkey! I wish with all my heart I had added heritage breed turkeys to the homestead long ago. These delightful dandies have such amazing personalities. They imprint on their people and want to be where you are. They like having you around and enjoy talking to you.
I could rave on about them for a long time. Besides the companionship and entertainment, the meat production is astounding. They don’t lay as many eggs as a chicken, less than half actually.
Most modern breeds don’t lay hardly at all. What eggs they do make are usually infertile. The hens don’t set either. The eggs are frequently artificially inseminated for fertilization. While heritage breeds lay fertile eggs and are nice setters.
Hogs are a great option for the small homestead. An individual hog can supply an astonishing amount of pork and doesn’t really need a lot of space. We prefer the Red Wattle pig or the Large Black hog because they’re excellent foragers, have delicious meat, and are as friendly as dogs, well almost. Turning them loose in the winter garden brings an added bonus of turning the leftover garden vegetables into mulch and compost.
It’s easy to create your own homemade sausage, ham, and bacon. Like all other manure on the homestead, hog manure is a natural fertilizer adding rich nutritional value for your gardening needs. I remember Granny’s slop bucket kept by the back door. Anything not fed to the dogs or chickens when into the bucket. Slopping the hogs was one of my most favorite chores as a girl.
What homestead would be complete without the best farm dogs? They provide protection from wildlife and intruders. A menacing bark or growl from a big dog or two may be enough to keep a curious bear at bay. They’re protective over the other farm animals as well. They keep watchful eyes and wagging tails while protecting the homestead from wolves, coyotes, and raccoons.
They help to herd animals, our pit bulls don’t herd, but there are some breeds which are bred for this trait. It’s their life’s work and desire. Needless to say, a dog provides you a faithful and loving companion. My Papa’s dog, Tiger, was a border collie who looked exactly like Lassie. He could tell him to go get “Betsy” and he would go out and get her from among the other cows. He would tell him to “Roundup Sam” (the mule) and he would.
Dogs are one of the most versatile tools on the homestead. Different breeds are bred to perform certain jobs. From herding livestock, guarding livestock, shielding the home, pulling gear, carrying packs, and even finding and recovering quarry, a farm dog may play many roles.
When looking for your homestead dog, I would avoid puppy kennels or dog show breeders. There’s a big difference between dog breeds. If you get a bird dog, you’ll have trouble getting it to protect your chickens, especially when you are not around.
Do your research, talk to other homesteaders who have a dog they’re happy with. My personal breed for all general purposes would be the Great Pyrenees. Although, if you live in a hot climate, you may want a more heat tolerant breed. Be sure to consider your climate when choosing this valuable member of your homestead team. You want the life of your dog to be as healthy and happy as you do all the other livestock entrusted to your care.
We like to choose breeds of all livestock which are endangered. Not only to help keep the breed alive, but to add unique value to the meat, milk, and eggs. The Livestock Conservancy is a great place to start and probably finish your research for many types of livestock.
What experience do you have cow farming? Pig farming? Do you have experience with any or all of these? Maybe you have one you feel I left out. Please share with us.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack